Will Tregurtha and Stuart Middleton recovered from a poor start to claim their maiden British GT Championship victories in round three at Rockingham yesterday (Sunday, April 30).
The HHC Motorsport pair finished 9.8s clear of Black Bull Garage 59’s Ciaran Haggerty and Sandy Mitchell, while PMW Expo Racing/Optimum Motorsport’s reigning GT4 champions Graham Johnson and Mike Robinson took their third podium in as many races this season.
Tregurtha lined up on pole but was passed by fellow front row starter Alex Reed and then Ciaran Haggerty on the opening lap. The first of three Safety Car periods briefly postponed the fun before Haggerty – who originally lined up fourth – got the better of Reed at the restart.
The top-three continued to circulate closely while Johnson maintained a watching brief in fourth. But it wasn’t long before Tregurtha had regrouped and passed Reed for second, and his subsequent pursuit of Haggerty’s McLaren spurred both of them to pull clear of Lanan Racing’s championship-leading Ginetta.
The gap between the pair fluctuated as the GT3 traffic made its way through, but they were seldom separated by more than a second. Indeed, Tregurtha briefly forced his way past at Tarzan Hairpin only for Haggerty to slipstream the Ginetta around Turn 1’s banking and re-take the lead at Deene less than a lap later.
A second Safety Car, this time to retrieve Steve Fresle’s stranded Ginetta from the Gracelands’ gravel, was required not long after, and the pair remained nose-to-tail before the pit window opened on the hour mark.
Neither crew had a pitstop success penalty to serve, and although their respective teams opted for different strategies – Black Bull Garage 59 immediately pitted Haggerty while HHC left Tregurtha out for another 10 minutes – the net result was roughly the same once Mitchell and Middleton were aboard.
However, HHC’s decision to wait longer ensured their Ginetta would have fresher new tyres over the remaining 50 minutes. And that would ultimately prove decisive in allowing Middleton to catch and pass Mitchell early in their stints. Such was his advantage that even a late Safety Car period couldn’t prevent the G55 from building a near-10-second lead before the chequered flag.
Meanwhile, Lanan’s 20-second success penalty for winning race two at Oulton Park saw David Pittard, who’d taken over from Reed, drop out of podium contention after the stops. Instead it was Johnson’s co-driver Robinson who picked up third despite serving a 10-second success penalty for finishing third at Oulton. The #501 crew’s cause was helped by all Silver Cup crews remaining stationary for an additional eight seconds during their stops, which contributed to the Ginetta finishing just 1.4 seconds behind Mitchell.
Autoaid/RCIB Insurance Racing’s Sam Webster and Matt Chapman featured in the top-five throughout and were running fourth when the latter’s race ended in the Yentwood gravel with 24 minutes remaining, which triggered the final Safety Car period. That promoted Akhil Rabindra and Dean Macdonald who made it two Black Bull Garage 59 McLarens in the final top-four, while Will Moore and Matt Nicoll-Jones’ Academy Motorsport Aston Martin enjoyed a consistent run to fifth after starting sixth.
Lanan’s Pittard and Reed completed the top-six, David Pattison and Joe Osborne’s Tolman Motorsport McLaren overcame some bad luck amid Safety Car periods to claim second in the Pro/Am classification with seventh in class, and Nick Jones and Scott Malvern’s Team Parker Racing Porsche rounded out the top-eight.
In2Racing’s Richard Marsh and Gareth Howell, and UltraTek Racing Team RJN’s Richard Taffinder and Martin Plowman completed the points finishers. But there was bad luck for Track-club’s Oulton Park race-winning McLaren which completed less than a lap after a stone punctured its radiator at the start.
Sandy Mitchell might have missed out on victory but his efforts to keep Middleton at bay in the second stint helped the 17-year-old Scot again win the Sunoco Fastest Race Lap Award after also triumphing at Oulton two weeks ago.
Will Tregurtha, #55 HHC Motorsport Ginetta G55 GT4: “That was probably the most exciting, frustrating and hardest race I’ve ever been a part of! Trying to get past the McLaren is so difficult – it’s very quick in a straight line. We were quicker through the corners and then lost it all down the straights. But that just made it even more fun and actually helped our strategy because I couldn’t push as hard through the corners when I was behind so saved the tyres. That meant I could stay out for longer and give Stuart fresher rubber at the end, which he used to drive away from everyone during the second stint. That made the difference today.”
Ciaran Haggerty, #100 Black Bull Garage 59 McLaren 570S GT4: “I was a bit annoyed with myself after qualifying yesterday when I felt there was more in the car, so I was determined to make up for that at the start of the race. It was really important to get to the front quickly and prevent the Ginettas from pulling away, and that seemed to work. It got a bit tougher towards the middle and end but it was important to hang on and kickstart our season. We didn’t really have the pace to finish P2 so it’s a really good result for us.”
Mike Robinson, #501 PMW Expo Racing/Optimum Motorsport Ginetta G55 GT4: “The Safety Car helped to bring us back into play a little but I was surprised by HHC’s pace. I know Graham [Johnson] was relieved after making contact with them on lap one, which bent our car’s exhaust and made it really slow in a straight line. So we’re delighted with another third – consistency is key in this championship. I hoped to race the McLaren at the end but we just didn’t have the pace.”
This season’s British GT Championship continues with two hour-long races at Snetterton on May 27/28.